© Brent Stirton / Getty Images / WWF-UK
China at a crossroads
In the coming decades China is predicted to become the world’s largest economy, with pressure on the natural environment expected to grow. At the same time, China is becoming a major investor overseas and a global leader in renewable energy and clean technology - a huge opportunity for the world. The battle for the future of our planet will rely heavily on the path that China will take.
WWF’s response to the rise of China as an economic powerhouse is the China for a Global Shift Initiative, aiming to make China's international trade and capital flows a driving force in global conservation and footprint reduction. Our approach is to engage key decision-makers in governments and financial institutions relevant to Chinese investments outside China and with an impact on WWF's priority places.

Our Objectives

  • Include environmental principles in decisions driving economic growth. China’s development is largely shaped by five-year plans, a critically important tool used by the government to achieve its social and economic objectives. Our goal is to integrate sustainability principles into China’s five-year plans and “Going Global” strategy.
  • Encourage the financial sector to formulate and adopt green lending policies. Chinese banks and financial institutions are increasingly investing in developing countries, presenting both an opportunity and a challenge for sustainable development and poverty reduction. Our goal is that by 2015, leading Chinese banks apply green lending policies considering environmental and social effects of their domestic and overseas operations.
  • Safeguard sustainability in the trade of natural resources. We promote international best practices and rigorous environmental standards for Chinese companies operating overseas. Our goal is that by 2015, China’s trade, aid and investment policies integrate sound environmental principles and these will be applied by major Chinese companies in priority sectors – forestry, infrastructure and mining.

China at a crossroads

Since the 1960s, China’s average ecological footprint – a measure of human pressure on the Earth’s natural resources – has grown rapidly. A world consuming resources and producing waste at Chinese levels for 2007 would need the equivalent of 1.2 planets to support its activities (the global average in 2007 was 1.5 planets). As part of its economic expansion, China has become a major consumer of oil, gas, coal, metals, timber and fish, increasingly sourcing them outside its borders and often from developing countries in Africa, South-East Asia and Latin America.

The Chinese government has recognized the challenges of environmental problems linked to economic development and has placed environmental sustainability high on the political agenda. This is an opportunity that the world cannot afford to miss.

China’s “Going Global”

One of the key features of the latest China five-year plans is the so-called “Going Global Strategy”, which encourages Chinese companies to invest overseas. As part of this economic expansion, China’s outward investment has surged and the trend is likely to continue.

With the 12th five-year plan approved in 2011, China has adopted a number of significant environmental targets. It is important that the same principles of sustainability are applied to overseas investments, so that China’s development can benefit partner countries, while contributing to the conservation of the planet’s natural environment.

Wind turbines funnel wind from the Columbia River Gorge, Washington-Oregon border, United States.

© National Geographic Stock/ Mark Thiessen / WWF